Casey Conway writes about his coming out experience last year and his passion for changing the lives of Australian youth.
By
Casey Conway

26 Jan 2016 - 8:56 AM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2016 - 9:01 AM

As we settle into the new year I’ve finally been able to step back and reflect on 2015. My first reaction was a huge exhale, then relief, then finally excitement.

The feeling of relief wasn’t because it’s over or that I survived, or even that it was a year to forget. I feel relieved that I’ve finally gained the strength to use my slight position of influence - as a proud gay Aboriginal man with an interesting backstory - to speak up on issues currently facing our LGBTIQ community and more specifically the young people trying to find their place within it. It’s something that’s been burning in the back of my mind for a number of years. I’m by no means celebrating, for the real work has just begun. This is where the excitement comes in.

Working in the community services sector for the past six years has given me a great insight into the real issues facing young LGBTIQ people. This struggle appears to be amplified for young Indigenous LGBTIQ people due to issues of acceptance; finding their place within the LGBTIQ community while maintaining their cultural obligations to family and community.

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This adversity affects so many areas of their lives - family and friends, education, stable living arrangements, physical and mental health. These young people are reluctant to access support services due to fear of rejection or being outed - this we already know.

Young people are drawing their confidence in accepting who they are through an avenue that wasn’t as initially positive for me as it is for them: the media. I never believed that sharing my story would impact people’s lives, so I went about my business in a way that would affect change for that person in that moment. Over time I found that to be a bandaid solution.

I’ve always seen myself to be similar to my brothers and mates in every way, except that I'll fall in love with a man and build a life with him. (Actually, I’m supposed to have a better dress sense than them but they aren’t about stereotyping.) Working with young people who were attempting to harm themselves because they didn’t want to be gay or because their gender didn’t match their body was a wake-up call for me. It is totally unacceptable that someone would rather not be alive than embrace something that they didn’t have a choice in. Enough is enough.

"I've been overwhelmed by the messages of support I received from around the world since sharing my coming out story."

I've been overwhelmed by the messages of support I received from around the world since sharing my coming out story with SBS/NITV. It has motivated me to continue to stand proud as a gay man, but mostly to empower young people out there who aren’t as fortunate as me.

It was amazing to have people close to me thank me for finally sharing my story, as they’ve always wondered how it was for me. Country folk are tough, but they're also the most caring and supportive people. Myth debunked.

So I say thank you and offer my unwaivering commitment to making this experience a little better for anyone who needs it. I will share my learnings, successes and setbacks as best I can. I believe the tide of change is upon us in Australia. It’s time for us to stand together, share our experiences and show that love will always conquer. We need to support and encourage the next generation to understand that they can be themselves, judgement free, and love openly.

As an Aboriginal man, I stand firm for my culture and won’t let the struggles of my mother, my grandmother and the generations before me be in vain. I now draw on that passion to advocate for change and bring visibility to the very real struggles faced every day by LGBTIQ people.

For youth mental health support, you can contact headspace: www.eheadspace.org.au
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